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Response to Ms. Meredith White | ABC 20/20
[August 14, 1998]

Ms. Meredith White Senior Producer, ABC's 20/20
147 Columbus Avenue-10th Floor
New York, NY 10023

Dear Ms. White:

It has come to our attention that several colleagues in the vaccine community have been interviewed for an upcoming 20/20 segment focusing on vaccination.

Vaccination has been the public health success story of the past 50 years. American children no long die from terrible diseases like polio, diphtheria, smallpox and whooping cough. Vaccines have consistently been shown to be extremely effective in preventing infectious diseases.

Because these diseases have been eradicated or nearly eradicated, the general public today enjoys a security unheard of by the generations that preceded them. Parents who never lived through a polio epidemic can't imagine the fear the name of this disease once aroused.

The tremendous public health success created by mass vaccination can only be maintained by continuing to properly vaccinate our nation's children. Study after study has shown that when vaccination rates fall, infections- and, sadly, deaths- rise. Many parents today mistakenly feel that because they have never seen a case of one of these diseases, their child is not at risk. This is simply not true. We know too well what when vaccination levels fall, diseases that were well controlled will re-emerge.

Inaccurate or incomplete media coverage of vaccination has resulted in a growing number of parents who, fearing that vaccines cause more harm than good, are not ensuring that their children are properly immunized. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS) and the many other medical organizations and practicing physicians with whom we work view this situation with growing alarm.

We are eager to help you in developing the planned 20/20 story into comprehensive picture of risks and benefits involved in vaccination. We can assist you with both background information and access to vaccine and infectious disease experts to assist your team in thoroughly explaining this issue to your viewers.

The public places a tremendous amount of trust in the media, and relies on you for information on many important issues. We hope you keep that in mind as this segment develops, and create a balanced piece that informs parents, encourages them to seek information from appropriate and credible sources, and does not lead them to wrongly judge the safety and effectiveness of vaccines for their children.

Samuel L. Katz, M.D.
Professor of Pediatrics
Duke University Medical Center

Louis W. Sullivan, M.D.
Morehouse School of Medicine

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